New positive COVID-19 cases identified in Sioux Lookout, area First Nation communities
Tim Brody - Editor
Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC), Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA), and the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) are responding to what is being described as a “cluster of asymptomatic people,” who tested positive for COVID-19 at SLMHC on June 21.
The six positive cases identified, all healthcare workers at SLMHC, were identified through staff surveillance being carried out at the hospital. All six are currently in isolation.
Heather Lee, President and CEO of SLMHC, shared with members of the media on June 22, “Staff surveillance was done as a result of some anxiety that folks had and potential for contacts out in the community and so we opened up surveillance testing for our staff to help give them a sense of comfort and be able to see if there was any uptake in the virus.”
The health centre responded right away. “Our main priority is the safety of our patients and our staff and so we are ensuring that we are minimizing any potential spread of this virus where possible.”
Lee said 147 of the heath centre’s 430 member staff were tested on June 21. More were tested on June 22 and Lee said staff at the health centre are being strong encouraged to get tested.
The initial point of exposure, she said, is unknown.
Contact tracing has been conducted and 18 contacts of the six cases have been tested and told to quarantine themselves.
None of the six cases worked at the William A “Bill” George Extended Care Facility, Lee informed.
Lee added that precautionary measures have been in place at the health centre since the beginning of the pandemic, including the use of personal protective equipment by staff and the implementation of visitor restrictions, which have been tightened as a result of the positive cases.
Dr. Ian Gemmill, Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit informed, “At this time there is no outbreak of illness. We are carefully monitoring anybody who is in hospital or who has been associated with any other cases.”
He added, “Our main concern at this time is to ensure that should any of these people testing positive be infectious, that the risk of transmission to any other person is minimized.”
“We want to assure the media and the public again that we’re taking the situation very seriously even though there is no acute illness at the moment,” Gemmill reiterated.
Dr. John Guilfoyle, SLFNHA Public Health Physician, shared, “Our role here is to ensure that the communities are protected as much as we can from further spread. To that end, we focus on the Jeremiah McKay Hostel, which is very important for the people of the north who come and sometimes stay for long periods as they access care in Sioux Lookout. We are putting in place increased restrictions, which previously had been put in place, and are we are offering testing to all staff.”
He added, “In the meantime, the important thing is to maintain the firewall (between SLFNHA member communities and the outside world), which will involve us increasing the vigor with which we will scrutinize people going back north from Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre. We will establish testing prior to return to the communities and of course we will be advising self-isolation for 14 days on return. We will also be working with the community physicians and any nursing staff that are returning to the communities to make sure that they are the lowest possible risk to the communities by a combination of ensuring isolation and appropriate testing, to make sure that we can be as confident as possible that those who come to the communities to serve, are least likely to pose a risk to the community.”
Guilfoyle is encouraging anyone who might be feeling ill to get tested.
Earlier on June 22 Guilfoyle shared in a message to the communities SLFNHA serves, “Number one – if you have any symptoms, cough, cold, sneeze, feeling unwell, even diarrhea, you should call the nursing station and ask to be assessed and they will assess you, likely test you, and that’s important. Number two – continue with the public health measures in home, with your loved ones, in your bubble.”
He added, “Keep doing your normal activities. But when you’re outside of your pod, physical distancing, six feet from somebody else, try to protect yourself and others when you cough and sneeze, obviously try to minimize touching surfaces and all of those sorts of things which might expose you to the virus. If you can’t manage these distancing measures, please, if you can, use a mask.”
As of June 18, six positive cases were identified by Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA), who have taken over responsibility for COVID-19 case management and contact tracing for their member communities from Indigenous Services Canada.
On June 19, Guilfoyle provided an update on the active cases of COVID-19 impacting SLFNHA member communities and their members.
“To date, we have three cases coming from one community,” he shared.
The first case was identified on June 12. On June 15, two close contacts of the June 12 case were also identified as testing positive for COVID-19. Neither of the June 15 cases presented symptoms. SLFNHA shared that there is evidence of community transmission in the community.
“Community A has activated its pandemic plan and their COVID team and their leadership are mobilized,” SLFNHA shared on June 18. “Contact Tracing occurred immediately resulting in the immediate identification of the two June 15 cases. SLFNHA’s Preventing Infectious Diseases team has been deployed to the community and is continuing to support contact tracing. Tests are being offered to anyone who has been exposed and this will continue until we can ensure we have identified other cases in the community if they exist.”
The June 12 case was hospitalized. The June 15 cases are isolating in the community.
“In another community, we have two members who have tested positive. One continues to remain in hospital and the other has just been recently discharged. Contact tracing is currently underway in that community and we hope to have some results in the next day or two to determine if there are any people who might have infection in the community,” Guilfoyle stated.
“Community B has activated their pandemic plan and is going through the proper steps to identify contacts and offer them testing. SLFNHA’s Preventing Infectious Diseases team has been deployed to the community and is continuing to support contact tracing. Tests are being offered to anyone who has been exposed and this will continue until we can ensure we have identified other cases in the community if they exist,” SLFNHA informed.
Both individuals from Community B were hospitalized.
“Another member from a separate community who lives in Sioux Lookout has been identified as positive (on June 16). This person is self-isolating in their home in Sioux Lookout,” Guilfoyle shared.
SLFNHA also shared, “One of the positive cases has been associated with the hostel in Sioux Lookout. On investigation of the circumstances, the risk of transmission in this setting is very low and appropriate contact tracing has been initiated. Nonetheless, all staff are being offered testing. If any clients of the hostel have any concerns or symptoms, they should offer themselves for testing.”
“Consistent with good public health practices, and respecting confidentiality and privacy, we do not identify the community or community members in respect to confirmed cases,” SLFNHA clarified.
On June 16, SLMHC informed, “Over the past few days, we have had three individuals admitted to the hospital who tested positive for COVID-19, and there are five positive cases that have been identified outside of the hospital setting. The hospital staff and physicians have prepared well over the past few months for this situation and want to reassure the public that all precautions, including a separate COVID-19 unit, continue to be in place to keep everyone safe. Additionally, our team continues to work closely with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority public health program as well as the Northwestern Health Unit; both who are responsible for contact tracing in their respective jurisdictions, to ensure required testing and/or isolation protocols are carried out.”
“SLMHC further informed, “At both the William A. George Extended Care facility and the hospital, screening remains in place. The hospital will continue to operate with reduced entrances to the building, and all patients/clients/visitors must use the Emergency Department entrance for the foreseeable future.”
On June 19, NWHU informed through a Facebook post, that it had received reports of three new cases of COVID-19 in our area- two in the Sioux Lookout Health Hub region and one in the Kenora Health Hub region.
“Follow up with the people involved and their contacts has started according to protocol. Anyone who is identified as a contact for this case will be contacted directly.
“For reasons of privacy, NWHU does not release or comment on information about the location of COVID-19 cases,” NWHU informed.
“We recommend that everyone assume COVID-19 is in their community and practice preventive measures like physical distancing, wearing a mask when physical distancing is not possible, good hand hygiene, and not touching their face.
“If you want to be tested for COVID-19, please visit our website for instructions on how to schedule an appointment at your local assessment centre. You can find that here, http://ow.ly/3PC750AcEeX,” NWHU went on to share.